I’m still thinking about dessert from the previous post, and I hope you are too. No, I don’t mean the cheesecake or candy or ice cream or whatever you ate, but what hopefully what you read. If that’s not ringing a bell, go back and read the previous post, because today we’re building on those three tips with three more tips.
Why Disciplines Fail
Let me ask you a question you’re not going to like. Brace yourself, ready? How many times have you tried to change or create a habit in your life, and nothing happened? How about going to the gym every day? Guilty here. How about limiting yourself to only healthy food 5 days a week. Guilty there too. How about waking up early to do something every day? Yep. If you’re like me, there’s probably something that you’ve tried to do, and after a week or two it just kind of stopped, and you realized it, but couldn’t get it back.
If that sounds familiar, its because you’re breathing. In fact speaking of habits, its estimated that between 81% – 92% of new year resolutions fail. There are a lot of reasons for this, and some of those reasons are the same ones that can make or break your Bible reading discipline. I’ll focus on three psychological reasons why your Bible reading discipline may not be taking off, & how to work on it. The three today are too big a change, accountability, and result vs. ritual.
Too Big a Change
Problem: Let’s say you wanted to take up weight lifting for the first time in your life. Regardless of your body size, age, or weight, you’re not going to walk into the weight room and lift 500 lbs your first time. Similarly, if you’re just starting to develop your reading discipline, you’re probably not going to be able to consistently read for an hour a day, a book a day, or maybe even a chapter a day. What happens when we try to tackle too much too soon is we get discouraged really fast.
Maybe we read that hour a day for the first week before work, but then we stay up too late that Friday, sleep in a bit Saturday, wake up at 9am and decide to get breakfast before reading. Before we know it the day’s gone, and we realize we didn’t read. Not to worry, you say, I’ll read two hours tomorrow morning. You know where this goes. Eventually we get so far behind we don’t catch up, and the habit never forms.
Solution: We can fight this by making smaller goals. There’s a saying that goes “Make it so easy you can’t say no.” If we have habits that we can’t justify saying no to or putting off, several things happen. One, simply by doing something, regardless of the length of time, we’re being consistent in our habit (more on that in number 3).
We’re also training ourselves that this is something to always say yes to & make time for, which becomes important when we’re reaching for bigger goals. And completing a task, even if its easy, gives us a sense of accomplishment and reward, which spurs us on to want to do it again.
Application: Don’t start with a goal of an hour a day, but 5 minutes a day. Read for the time it takes you to drink your morning coffee, or your kids to get dressed. Don’t start with a goal of a chapter a day, but a paragraph a day. Start small, and make it so easy you’ll feel silly for putting it off. Believe it or not, your discipline will grow.
Lack of Accountability
Problem: How easy is it for you to get up at 4am? Probably not. What if you’re a hunter and you’re going out to the stand with your buddies and you’re their ride? Or you’re meeting a friend for coffee? Or you’re leaving for vacation? Yep, that alarm goes off and you shoot out of bed. Why? Other people are counting on you or expecting you.
Often times when we’re reading our Bibles we’re doing it on our own, so if we happen to miss a day, or two or six, who will know? Human being are generally horrible at being accountable to our self, even if its something we know is important. Why? Because we can always justify to ourselves to or not to do something, and rationalize our way out of something.
Solution: It’s not as easy to justify missing something when someone else is counting on you or expecting you to do your share. The same is true with Bible reading. When we make our discipline extend beyond our own hearts & minds and make it and ourselves accountable to someone else, we’re much more likely to follow through. Not because we necessarily want to any more, but because we DON’T want to face the question of, “So, what’d you read today?” with a sad face, a long pause, and a, “Um…I didn’t.” We especially generally don’t want to do that over and over.
Application: Find a reading partner. That doesn’t mean you have to read Scripture literally together, though that’s a great option. Find someone who you can read more or less the same part of Scripture with, and have a regular check in time in which you affirm you read, and relay something you each got out of it. You can do this by text, phone, email, Facebook, any which way, but it’s important you do it. By knowing someone else will be asking you if you did, you’re more likely to choose to do it in the moment of decision.
Result vs Ritual
Problem: Let’s go back to the gym. Many people work out for a week, see no changes in their muscles or weight, and quit thinking it was a waste of time. The problem is that it takes time and consistency for muscles to form. You can lift very little weight, but do it consistently over 6 months and you’ll see better tone and definition. Why? Because the ritual needs to come before the result.
In other words, to get the results you want, you must have the discipline first. Many people start Bible reading and don’t retain or remember things they want to, or they feel its not helping their life. The same rule as in weight lifting applies.
Solution: Like the first tip, sometimes its not always about starting and then instantly memorizing the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes its getting into habit so that you can look forward to learning more. Habits are funny in that once they’re habitual, we feel funny not doing them. Once we establish a habit of Bible reading and it becomes part of our day where we can’t not do it, that truly frees us to explore and learn what the riches of Scripture can teach us.
Application: This is a mental one: remember that you will remember, retain, & get more out of Scripture the more you read it. Your life may not shift 180 degrees the first time you read it, but that’s no reason to think reading it is useless. The hardest part is opening it every day and making interaction with God’s Word an essential part of your day. Once you can no longer have to remember to read your Bible and open it with anticipation, you’ve truly started the discipline of scripture reading.
The last post focused on how to approach your Bible reading. This one focused on how to start & make it stick. But wait, there’s more! Our next post will give you three tips on how to get the most out of reflecting and stewing on your reading, which will then in turn make reading Scripture that much more enjoyable. I’m praying for you. Grace to you.